The Hecklers Who Ruin Simpson and Bowles' Breakfasts

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 19 2013 9:06 AM

The Hecklers Who Ruin Simpson and Bowles' Breakfasts

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Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), participate in a Joint Deficit Reduction Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on November 1, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It's a weekday, which means the bipartisan duo of Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles is re-re-re-re-re-upping their Cassandra campaign for austerity taxes and budget cuts. Even ABC News approaches the new campaign with one eyebrow arched: "They’re pushing a re-hashed plan to slow the nation’s debt growth and put it on a more stable path, essentially fitting their old plan into a new timeline and pushing leaders in Washington, D.C., to adopt a piecemeal approach to fiscal reform."

The kickoff started with a Politico piece, followed IRL by Simpson and Bowles at the magazine's Playbook Breakfast. In no time at all, moderator Mike Allen was interrupted by a middle-aged black man walking close to the stage and yelling, passionately and on-message, "Pay yo' damn taxes!" he said, as security politely corralled him. "Pay yo' damn taxes!"

"We'll bring you into the conversation," said Allen diplomatically.

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Allen tried to continue, letting Bowles introduce the new-old plan, when another middle-aged black man started yelling more slogans: "Some cuts don't heal!" Another ejection, another promise to bring him into the conversation.

Normally, it's bad policy to give hecklers a lot of attention. It's what they want! But this direct action is part of a campaign that's dogged the "Fix the Debt"-ers for the better part of a year. The group Our DC was incorporated in April 2011 by Maryland/D.C. SEIU organizers. I first became aware of the group when it started leafletting my gentrifying neighborhod in northwest D.C., but it didn't go large until it started crashing austerity events.

Our DC tells me that it sent nine activists to the open-to-the-public Playbook event, all unpaid—"taxpayers affected by cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security," according to spokesman James Adams. But it's a bit of a turnabout, isn't it? Fix the Debt et al aren't incredibly open about their own financing, either. The Our DC folks play on emotion to portray the austerity hawks as callous; the austerity hawks play on emotion to portray "debt deniers" as thoughtless flat-earthers. The upshot: Lots of dark money is spent on mutually assured sideshow destruction.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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